George F. What?

by John Holbo on October 12, 2009

What is your best theory about how this image was generated? (I got it from Amazon.)


Seriously. This can’t be a picture of a published book, can it? On the other hand, it’s an image of a book published in 1984, so presumably they made the image by scanning an old book. I am curious whether such a monstrosity exists in real life. It’s not just the misspelling. It’s like a full course in how not to design a book cover.



Felix Holt 10.12.09 at 5:05 am

Very werd. am not sure how ths bypassed the ntrepd edtoral staff.


Vance Maverick 10.12.09 at 5:12 am

Larger image here.


Robert 10.12.09 at 5:24 am

One link ( suggests that it’s certainly not the cover as originally published. And Google Image search confirms that.

Image search also has a link to another website ( with the same problem, at least in their search pages. So it’s not just Amazon.

Maybe the publisher auto-generated the image from a file that’s converted poorly?


Delicious Pundit 10.12.09 at 5:26 am

Does this monstrosity exist in real life? I’m sure it can be encountered in Northern Virginia yard sales; in moisture-ruined piles of hardcovers in Southern summer houses; knocked to the floors of garages after small earthquakes in Orange County. Small-town librarians sigh as they find it in yet another box of donated books; the pile is not as high as the donated Micheners, true, but it’s high enough.

The serifs on the “T”s remind me of nothing so much as the shoulder pads on a woman’s business suit of the time.


Substance McGravitas 10.12.09 at 5:28 am

Can’t quite figure out why properly-spelled versions exist as well. It has to be some kind of generic template released by the publisher. They released the wrong one, then fixed it.


jholbo 10.12.09 at 5:47 am

Until I saw the Google books version, I would have suspected that no real copies exist. Now I’m not so sure. It’s quite common for publishers to release draft cover versions that are flawed in some way, then the printed versions are correct. But this one is funny because it instantly insults the eye in every way. (You can see them in the meeting. “The eye must be caught – and held! – by the strangely large and prominent period following the author’s middle initial. That period is the center of gravity – the punctus, if you will (or wll)! – around which all else revolves!”)

How could anything about this cover look right even for a second?


TheSophist 10.12.09 at 5:56 am

Well, I’m looking at my copy even as we speak, and, apart from “Will” being spelled correctly, that’s exactly what it looks like.

I have no idea if the book’s worth reading (the early eighties were something of a lost half-decade for me) but I think it was assigned in a course I took from Albert Borgmann at the University of Montana in 1982-ish. Hmmm…just thought to check the publication date and that’s ’83. Guess my memories of those days are even fuzzier than I realized…


Maurice Meilleur 10.12.09 at 11:36 am

It offends my eyes, too–and the missing ‘i’ is clearly a typo corrected later–but it’s worth pointing out that this cover is very deliberate. Note the way that the designer has positioned letters like the ‘TA’ and the ‘RA’ in ‘STATECRAFT’, or the ‘WHA’ and the ‘VERN’ and the ‘MEN’ in the subtitle, or the fact that the ‘FT’ in both ‘STATECRAFT’ and ‘SOULCRAFT’ are positioned exactly the same way, for examples. There was scalable type (photo and I think also digital) by 1983, so it’s not as if the designer was constrained in his/her choice of type size by what the printer had lying around the shop floor and had to squeeze the characters together–and you’d never be able to make this cover with cold or hot metal type anyway. And I don’t have time to rummage around for other specimens this morning, but my own fuzzy recollection is that this cover is well within the orbit of other serious nonfiction book cover designs at the time.

Further argument, I suppose, for Jan Tschichold’s dictum that dust jackets are meant to be thrown out once you’ve brought the book home.


belle le triste 10.12.09 at 11:46 am

I read this as a too-clever 80s “type revolution” attempt to invoke an 18th-century cursiveness (appropriate, as DrJohnson might say on Twitter, to “the ANTEDILUVIAN MAUNDERINGS of power-nuzzling Village scribbler Mr Geo.WILL.”)

I also read it as desk-top publishing KERNINGFAIL.


Maurice Meilleur 10.12.09 at 11:55 am

No DTP in 1982, yet. (Not long thereafter, though.) And no doubt the designer was trying for some ‘historical’ or ‘classical’ look, though it doesn’t line up with any period of printing history I remember, ‘classical’ or otherwise.


Mrs Tilton 10.12.09 at 1:32 pm

I actually read the damn thing, many a long year ago (didn’t buy it though, thank Christ). A heartfelt plea for a conservative nanny state. Gak; even libertarianism is preferable, in that it tosses up the occasional Radley Balko.

SaS was poignant, though. Will was obviously striving mightily to produce a Big Deep Statement That People Would Be Reading And Talking About Decades, Even Centuries Hence. For all his heartfelt yearning, though, Will is no Burke. His gift is for shallow, dishonest hackery; cobbler, stick to your last!


belle le triste 10.12.09 at 1:34 pm

Yes I meant a modern computer-set face intended simultaneously to look VERY NOW letter by letter yet somehow remind you by its organisation on the page of a baroque ornateness — but of course you’re right, it’s probably too early to be inspired by genuine DTP bad-kerning artefacts (though it really does look like them, to me: the rubbish italics also remind me of bad computer-printing artefacts).


Anderson 10.12.09 at 2:29 pm

Pretty awful. And book cover typos do happen. I have a book on The Bloomsbury Group whose dustjacket subtitle includes “Virginia Wolff.”


phoebesmother 10.12.09 at 2:43 pm

This post and comments are what I come here for. A thread on 1980s typographic enormities. Book jackets, as well as most magazine titles, were and are often drawn by hand. However, this cover smacks of the letter by letter photographic headline machines common in that era. Although there were indeed no common DTP programs out there, most phototype machines could spew out such atrocities if you carefully or unartfully commanded space reductions between characters. The motto was, “if one can kern, one must kern.” And how pleasant to be reminded of Jan Tschichold.


LFC 10.12.09 at 2:44 pm

I remember reading a negative review of SaS by, if I recall correctly, James Fallows, who said, in slightly politer language and at more length, basically what the commenter @12 above says.


Glen Tomkins 10.12.09 at 2:56 pm

They had to change the cover

You see, the 1984 edition was by George F. Will, but that author has since died and been replaced in his many TV appearances by a computer generated simulacrum, George F. Wii. You get George F. WII if you capitalize all of the letters of the last name, which I agree is an odd style choice, but is the only thing at all unusual about the cover design. You don’t want to raise misleading expectations about the content with your cover, so a cover that has WII crowding out everything else is probably about right.

If this sounds far-fetched on first consideration, consider further. Have you ever seen this George F. Wii other than on the TV? Hmm? Even allowing him his chosen, one could conjecture, his only possible, setting, his TV appearance on talk shows, does he really seem quite fully human even in this setting? Hmmm? Sure, you could chalk up part of that to the dehumanoidizing effect that TV talk show appearance has even on probable actual humans and human0ids, but I don’t think that rationalization can quite stretch to cover George F. Wii.


soullite 10.12.09 at 3:23 pm

Was this really published? You can pick up a lot of vanity-published works on Amazon. Some of it’s good, most of it’s crap. I can guess which category a book by George Will would fit in to.


Jim Harrison 10.12.09 at 4:33 pm

When I was in the book business, copies of one of our math books started showing up in stores with the title misspelled on the cover–Trigernometry. It turned out that the copies were from a pirated edition. Somebody had gotten a hold of print overruns of the insides of the book and slapped a new cover on them. This sort of thing is commoner than you’d expect. It’s very easy for somebody at the printer to leave the press running just a few minutes longer.


politicalfootball 10.12.09 at 8:26 pm

What’s the big mystery? He got disemvowelled. About time, I say.


Benjamin 10.12.09 at 8:53 pm

The publisher, (who may have used Google’s scan) reproduces the cover typo at the “Browse Inside” link. I also notice that the misspelled version has a yellow title and white subtitle, while the corrected one is all white type. associates the corrected spelling with the 1997 reprint, so perhaps the hardcover really did ship with the misspelling.


Benjamin 10.12.09 at 9:32 pm

Gah, it’s not the title and subtitle in different tones, it’s the title material and author. Oh well, my point was just that the coloring difference probably indicates a difference in printings.


etbnc 10.12.09 at 10:04 pm

Like someone in comments above, I read it as “Wii”. Kind of jarring to try to put the guy into the context of motion-sensing games. Then I thought of his baseball obsession, and I found myself thinking about throwing pitches at a dunk tank target.

That game might be worthwhile if there’s an especially satisfying splash! involved.


mcmc 10.12.09 at 11:15 pm

Striking! Could have been worse though–could have been a script font in all-caps.


Jasper Milvain 10.13.09 at 12:43 pm

I see the hand of a catastrophically misguided Herb Lubalin wannabe. In the 1960s and 70s, when photosetting had made this kind of thing newly possible, competent versions of crunched-up type looked daring and new. By 1982 this is a cliche as well as an ugly, ugly thing. Maybe the designer decided to leave out the i so as to get the kerning even tighter.


nick s 10.13.09 at 1:58 pm

No DTP in 1982, yet.

And American book covers are, to my eye at least, usually quite crap, especially in the politics section, regardless of the time period and technology available to publishers.


peter 10.13.09 at 9:45 pm

This is no typo. Mr Will is well-known for his rants against a certain current US President for excessive use of first-person singular pronouns, and, being himself a self-effacing sort of chap, Mr Will decided to set an example by reducing their use.


nd 10.14.09 at 9:43 pm

I would guess that the origins of the missing “i” are the results of character set problems. (1) Some clever typesetter decided to replace the normal “i” with one without a dot (which is a special character in some character sets that allows you to avoid crashes with serifs in situations like this, with the overhanging “W”); (2) at some point this font was replaced with a substitute font that lacked a dotless “i” in its character set, producing a blank space. And no-one noticed before it went to press.

Having seen a book go to press missing its title on the cover I think I’ve seen everything (mercifully that error was not my doing, & since the author, Peter Lombard, has been dead for a few centuries we didn’t get any nasty letters from him).


garymar 10.15.09 at 4:20 am

Didn’t somebody just scan this into a bitmap, play with it on Paint, and accidentally tap the “paint bucket”, set to background color, over the i? Ah, but then they’ve have to fill in the dot of the i too. Never mind.

Or else it was intentional.

The only thing Will said that I ever agreed with was, “The American people are conservative. They want to conserve the New Deal.”

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